Polarization of society used to secure power
Turkey’s main problems are political and social. Political stability versus political competition and participation, freedom of religion versus freedom from religion, majority-minority cleavages versus an integrated state and society – each issue presents a trade-off with political, social and international repercussions. The polarization of society has been a key strategy used by the Justice and Development Party (AKP) to secure and hold on to power. Legal uncertainty, distrust in the judiciary, the deterioration of fundamental rights and freedoms, and inefficiency in governmental sectors have increased in the aftermath of the averted military coup of 15 July 2016. Suppression of opposition has intensified. The parliament has not been willing to reduce the 10% electoral threshold for representation in the parliament. Moreover, gerrymandering, single-member district plurality and narrow electoral district boundaries have been used by the AKP to reinforce the party’s parliamentary majority. However, the establishment of a new party, İYİ Parti (Good Party), may present a real challenge to the AKP in the next presidential and parliamentary elections, a reaction to Erdoğan and his alliance with the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).
Civil-rights concerns persist
Civil rights shortcomings persist. The incumbent AKP government should expand minority rights for Kurds, Alevis, Christians and other minorities to increase the visibility of minority groups within society and foster minority groups’ identification with the state. This would promote intra-societal peace and a pluralist, integrated society. The government should enhance the powers of local and regional authorities, and introduce stronger mechanisms for democratic participation and political subsidiarity. In addition, the 10% electoral threshold should be reduced to increase smaller parties’ participation in national decision-making.
Internal, external protests against authoritarianism. More inclusive approach needed
At the same time, the AKP should seriously consider domestic and international concerns about increasing authoritarianism and exclusivist conservatism, and declining pluralism and liberalism within society. The government should contribute to the peaceful inclusion of all social groups, while continuing to tackle extremism and terrorism. The AKP’s monopoly on government, and the authoritarian stance of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan against groups and media critical of the regime is a concern for foreign observers, but even more so for Turkish citizens. Since the Gezi protests, mass protests have continued against the government and its policies. However, protests are typically suppressed by the government, using its state of emergency powers. A more inclusive, reconciliatory rhetoric and better communicated policy intentions are urgently needed. Freedom and security must not be considered zero-sum games. In this respect, international stakeholders, such as the European Union and the Council of Europe, repeatedly exercise their influence over the Turkish government.
Structural reforms would prolong growth
Despite the global financial crisis, Turkey’s economic performance has been above average. To sustain this positive trend, the government should introduce structural reforms and extend the EU-Turkey Customs Union Decision of 1995, which covers industrial commodities, to include agriculture, services, government procurement and investments. Turkey’s relatively high current account deficit remains a major challenge, requiring action such as the adoption of a real exchange rate policy. Turkey and the European Union have shown a willingness to open a new chapter and conclude the present chapter of accession talks. However, U-turns and dramatic shifts in Turkey’s foreign policy may not bring the expected outcomes.
Demographic shifts difficult to manage
During the review period, Turkey’s gradual demographic shifts and the country’s economic slowdown have increasingly posed a problem. While a young and well-educated population is a boon and offers enormous potential, financial and social provisions for the elderly need to be addressed. The government should continue reforming the pension system to tackle social exclusion and poverty. Furthermore, the country’s record on environmental issues, education and innovation is poor when compared to other OECD countries. Since these areas are key to supporting Turkey’s growing population and economy, the government should increase expenditure in these areas. Illegal immigration and the refugee situation are exacerbating social tensions and leading to widespread discrimination.
Potential as regional power not yet realized
Turkey has become a major emerging economy and a key regional power. However, it increasingly struggles with the repercussions of internal conflicts in neighboring and regional countries, and the coup attempt of 15 July 2016. In order to regain credibility and influence, Turkey should use diplomatic means to re-establish trust, peace and security in the region, and pursue dialogue with reliable regional actors and Western partners. Turkey’s international influence and credibility would further increase if the government became more involved in and implemented more international agreements, especially OSCE, Council of Europe and EU agreements. An active continuation of reform processes in line with the acquis communautaire and in close cooperation with the European Commission is necessary for Turkey’s EU accession ambitions and democratization in Turkey.